Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Monday, September 24, 2012

Attempts to spread the M23 rebellion

The de facto ceasefire between the M23 and the Congolese government continues to hold. When asked why a senior Congolese operational commander said simply: "We have not received orders to attack." However, several thousand troops have been sent to the East in the past two months, along with heavy weaponry and tanks, and there are signs that the government could attack soon.

In the meantime, the M23 is sitting tight, recruiting and training soldiers and working on its ties with other groups. While it has been able to make tentative alliances in some unexpected quarters - the Raia Mutomboki in southern Masisi, for example, or with Albert Kahasha's UPCP in southern Lubero - it has not had much luck with its more traditional allies in the Hutu and Banyamulenge communities. Those alliances, which had formed the backbone of the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) between 1998-2003, began fraying during the early days of the CNDP and have never recovered. The Hutu leadership around former North Kivu Governor Eugene Serufuli, for example, is viewed with mistrust in Kigali and by the M23, as they had defected from Laurent Nkunda's CNDP in 2005-2006, hamstringing his movement. Until now, the M23 has only included minor members of the Hutu military and political elites - Erasto Ntibaturana (a local chief from Masisi), Col. Edmond "Saddam" Ringo (a former PARECO commander), Sendugu Museveni (the disgraced former PARECO president), Lt Col Vianney Kazarama (the former military spokesperson of South Kivu).

In the Banyamulenge community, the M23 have been even less successful. Until recently, there were only several, relatively unknown Banyamulenge officers in the M23. The few senior Banyamulenge who had been in the CNDP - Col Eric Ruohimbere, Col Eric Bizimana were the highest-ranking - are dismissive of the M23, and there never were any respected civilian leaders from their community who had joined.

That may be changing slowly. On September 17, a small coalition of Fuliro and Banyamulenge soldiers, some of whom had just been recruited in Rwanda, attacked the Luberizi army camp south of Bukavu, making away with a sizeable stash of weapons and ammunition. The attack was carried out by Lt Col Bede Rusagara, an ex-CNDP officer from the Fuliro community, who has been bolstered by a succession battle surrounding the customary chiefdom of the Rundi in the Rusizi Plain. But Bede was accompanied by Nkingi Muhima, a Munyamulenge commander (and former assistant to Col Michel Rukunda) who defected from the Congolese army in July, as well as several very young Banyamulenge who had just been recruited in Rwanda. According to numerous sources in this community, pressure is increasing on youths, especially those living in Rwanda, to join this new rebellion. In mobilization meetings, they are reportedly told that their community is in danger, that massacres are being committed against their relatives in the Congo. 

While for the most part, the Banyamulenge community in the Congo appears reluctant to join another armed insurrection - the past AFDL and RCD rebellion have brewed distrust against Rwanda, which many believe is behind the M23 rebellion - it has also suffered several attacks by Mai-Mai militia in recent months, costing hundreds of head of cattle and several lives. While some of the Banyamulenge leaders conspiratorially told me they think these attacks are supposed to drive them into the arms of the M23 rebellion, at the end of the day, the logic of fear could trump distrust toward Rwanda. It is too soon to tell, and Nkingi's group is still very small, but time is on the rebels' side. The longer the ceasefire lasts, the weakener and more indecisive Kinshasa will look, and the more time the M23 rebels will have to rally more soldiers and politicians to their side. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

This is how trouble starts: Alleged killings spark anger

I was visiting an ex-CNDP senior officer this evening when he received news that four Tutsi ex-CNDP soldiers, include a major and a captain, had been tortured and summarily executed in Burhinyi, South Kivu. A group of friends had already gathered in his house and were bemoaning the deaths, exchanging stories they had already received, via text message and phone calls, of how they had been tortured before they were executed. Some relatives of the victims who were there said they hadn't even been able to get the bodies.

The details are still murky, and we should be careful to reserve judgment. The South Kivu command has reportedly confirmed that four soldiers were killed yesterday. The commander of the regiment that arrested them says that they were shot when they tried to escape, after they had been arrested for desertion; the news the ex-CNDP officer was receiving obviously contradicted this - he said they had been arrested in civilian clothes, with signed authorizations for leave, then tortured, killed and thrown in a mass grave.

The officer I was visiting called a fellow ex-CNDP colonel, telling him in Kinyarwanda that he too would defect if the Congolese army didn't react and bring these "beasts" to justice. "Should we just wait here until they kill all of us?" He asked. Others in the room were already saying that the bodyguards of another ex-CNDP officer who had defected were already being targeted - "they are next." The ex-CNDP colonel tried to convince him that this was exactly how the M23 wanted him to react, but my host, who had spent much of the evening criticizing Bosco Ntaganda, didn't buy it. He said he would wait to see the government's reaction, but didn't have much hope.

Throughout the CNDP history, it has been incidents like this that snowball into outright violence.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Guest blog: The Mai-Mai Lumumba: Okapi killers or self-defense forces?

This is a guest blog by Dan Fahey, an ACM Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Political Science department at Colorado College.  This blog is based on interviews he conducted during August 2012 in Bunia and Kinshasa, reviews of documents and photographs, web-based sources (as noted), and emails with key informants.
Among the plethora of armed groups currently operating in eastern DRC, a small group known as Mai-Mai Lumumba has distinguished itself through brutal attacks against both civilians and endangered wildlife.  Mai-Mai Lumumba is active in and around the Okapi Fauna Reserve (known by the French acronym, RFO) in Mambasa Territory (Ituri District).  Although it has no known connections with rebel movements such as M23 or COGAI, this group under the command of a man called Morgan has strong ties with FARDC officers, as well as gold and ivory traders, and has emerged as a local threat in western Ituri.
Mai-Mai Lumumba’s most vicious attack to date came on 24-25 June 2012 at the Epulu headquarters of the RFO.  At 5am on the 24th, a group of approximately 35 heavily armed and naked Mai-Mai – “protected” by the dawa of a witch doctor called JP and led by Morgan – attacked and overpowered a small group of park rangers. Joined later by a second group of Mai-Mai, they reportedly looted and burned RFO facilities, raped dozens of women, and abducted scores of people.  They murdered six people – two of whom were burned to death – and killed fourteen out of the fifteen okapi that were captive at the RFO center (the fifteenth has subsequently died).  In addition, Morgan’s men reportedly ate part of the left leg of one of their charred victims.
The viciousness of the attack at Epulu received international attention, probably because endangered okapi were killed – but there has been no media coverage of numerous other attacks by Mai-Mai Lumumba in western Ituri, which have destabilized the region and displaced more than 10,000 people. 
Morgan, whose real name is Paul Sadala, is a native of the Bombo community of forest cultivators in Ituri.  Since at least 2005, he has been poaching elephants and engaging in gold mining within the RFO, which was created in 1992 by the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) primarily to protect the okapi and other endangered species. 
According to various sources, local communities in and around the RFO have expressed grievances about entrenched poverty in the area and prohibitions imposed by the Reserve, such as bans on hunting with firearms, commercial exploitation of wood, artisanal mining, and other similar activities.  The Okapi Conservation Project (OCP) has been undertaking a variety of programs to ensure protection of this World Heritage Site, to assist local communities, and to promote alternative agricultural practices to exploitation of the Reserve’s resources.  Nonetheless, some people believe RFO is generating large amounts of revenue that fail to reach local communities, while simultaneously preventing local populations (especially chiefs) from pursuing economic opportunities.
Local communities may indeed have legitimate criticisms of the RFO, but Morgan’s activities have been so violent and on such a large scale that they appear to be simply criminal, sadistic, and driven by self-interest.   Prior to becoming the leader of Mai-Mai Lumumba, Morgan was accused of slaughtering at least two thousand elephants in the RFO to sell their ivory.  Morgan profited from the growing Asian demand for ivory, which has pushed prices higher in recent years (ivory currently trades for $200/kg in Mambasa center; tusk weight varies by age but can average 10kg).  ICCN rangers arrested Morgan in 2005 and 2010 for poaching, but in the latter case, FARDC soldiers collaborating with him reportedly secured his release.  In addition, Morgan’s group has controlled several gold mining sites in and around RFO, including one at Pangoy (outside the RPF, near the Orientale-North Kivu border) where at least 60 miners died in an August 2012 collapse. 
Morgan increased his stature this year when he merged his gang with Mai-Mai Simba (from Maiko National Park) and some FARDC deserters.  Representatives of Mai-Mai Simba’s leader – a man called Kasambaza – reportedly approached Morgan sometime in late February or early March 2012, after all FARDC units in Ituri were pulled from the field following the 12 February mutiny at Marabo.  FARDC Chief of Staff Gen. Amisi sent the troops to four camps in Ituri to prevent a spread of the mutiny, but this (predictably) left a power vacuum that allowed armed groups to seize control of territory (e.g., see Henning Tamm’s description of FRPI’s expansion in Irumu Territory). 
By early March, the new mélange of Mai-Mai Simba, Morgan’s poachers, and army deserters under the command of Colonel Kahasha (a former Mai-Mai) had christened itself Mai-Mai Lumumba, in a nod to Simba’s Lumumbist roots.  Around the time of the merger, the non-Mai-Mai (including Morgan) underwent ceremonial rites of passage to become Mai-Mai.   The group includes men from the Ndaka, Bakumu, Nande, and Bapiri communities (together comprising 80% of the members, with Nande the largest group), and Pygmies (20%).  The new group’s first attack was on 12 March at the village of Pangoy, where Mai-Mai elements raped more than 25 women and girls, and looted goods. 
Elements within Mai-Mai Lumumba – specifically Morgan and the FARDC deserters – reportedly have strong ties to senior FARDC officers in Beni, Bafwasende and Kisangani, which may help explain how the group acquired its arsenal of heavy machine guns, RPGs, mortars, AK-47s, and ammunition.  In addition, senior Mai-Mai commanders are known to wear FARDC uniforms before or after attacks, which they carry out naked. 
There may have even indeed been complicity in the Epulu attack with the FARDC unit at Bafwasende (908th Battalion), which inexplicably arrived at Epulu just 30 minutes after the last Mai-Mai elements withdrew with their abductees and loot.   The 908th and its successor, the 903rd, both extensively pillaged businesses and dwellings in Epulu town, but did not engage the Mai-Mai.
During July, Morgan’s relationship with the Simba elements in Mai-Mai Lumumba soured.  According to an ICCN source, some members of the Simba group disliked Morgan’s tactics, which include stripping people naked, dousing them in gasoline, setting them on fire, and watching them burn to death in the company of people from the victim’s community, who are forced to witness the horror.  Around 31 July, members of the Simba group arrested Morgan at Mabuo, in the Lubero Territory of North Kivu.  Simba “Colonel” Jean-Luc demanded $10,000 from FARDC and ICCN to transfer Morgan to their custody, which suggests a financial motivation apart from any more high-minded reasons, but Morgan either escaped or paid off his captors on 6 August., and returned to the bush.
In late July, FARDC deployed the 905th Regiment to Epulu to replace the abusive 903rd.  Since 12 August, the 905th has been working with ICCN park rangers in a joint operation to secure RFO and attack Mai-Mai Lumumba.  On 23 August, the ICCN/FARDC force reportedly wounded Morgan in combat, and on 28 August the force killed 18 Mai-Mai in a battle at Lulumo (Mambasa Territory) and recovered numerous weapons. 
The increased pressure has scattered and further divided Mai-Mai Lumumba.  There are now several splinter groups in the bush, and it is not clear to what extent Morgan controls their actions.  One group composed entirely of Pygmies and under the command of “Manu” (reportedly Morgan's second in command) is still wreaking havoc.  During the week of 27-31 August, there were at least two more attacks attributed to Mai-Mai Lumumba elements. 
The birth and growth of Mai-Mai Lumumba highlights a fundamental and recurrent problem in eastern Congo: the failure of the Congolese state to provide security and to prevent the illegal exploitation of natural resources.  Indeed, FARDC officers appear to be complicit in arming Morgan, enabling his activities, and benefiting from his exploitation of ivory and gold from the RFO.  Mai-Mai Lumumba’s deliberate and exceptional cruelty against people and okapi are shocking, but so too is the Congolese government’s dereliction of its most basic responsibilities.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

How many ex-CNDP commanders have defected?

I have updated the second document since the original posting. 

 The M23 rebellion is staffed largely by ex-CNDP officers who mutinied starting early April, demanding the implementation of the March 23, 2009 agreement with the government. That deal brokered their integration into the national army, and the officers say that many of its aspects - including the confirmation of their ranks, adequate salaries, political positions of their cadres - were not respected, and that they were discriminated against.

So how many have defected?

Here are two tables that go some way to addressing this question, although further research is needed.

First, a table of the CNDP structure in 2008, just before integration. I have provided their ranks just before the M23, and tried to list most of their senior officers (feel free to submit other names). In red are members who have defected to the M23. As one can see, they constitute about half of the senior ex-CNDP officers.

Secondly, a table of the defectors' most recent positions in the FARDC before leaving. This shows that, while some very high ranking commanders have defected, it is a small portion of the officer corps. For example, of the nine sector commanders, one ex-CNDP has defected (although two other, non-CNDP, have also defected, including ex-PARECO Col Saddam Ringo and ex-Mundundu 40 Col Albert Kahasha).

Guest blog: The DRC neutral force is a dangerous distraction

This is a guest blog by Nickson Kasola, the director of Centre pour la Gouvernance, a non-profit conducting research on democracy and governance based in Kinshasa. Their report on the recent fighting in the eastern Congo can be found here.

Our regional leaders have got two things right about the crisis gripping the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). One: that it needs their urgent attention. Two: the leaders of the Great Lakes countries, including their east African members, have a crucial role to play in bringing stability. But they are failing to do what they need to.

In the next days the International Conference on the Great Lakes region (ICGLR) will discuss sending a ‘neutral force’ of yet more soldiers to Congo that they say will help bring peace. Plunged deeper into conflict and chaos since the April emergence of the M23 armed group there and the increased activity of other armed groups, it could appear to the inexperienced eye that a military response by a ‘neutral international force’ would fit the bill. But in fact this is not the case; their public muscle flexing has merely allowed these nations to avoid the political heavy lifting they must do. 

What needs to happen is an urgent end to Rwandan support to the M23. The illegal backing that Rwanda has already given the rebel group, including arms and ammunition, has bolstered the group immensely and turned it into a real threat to the DRC government’s control of a part of North Kivu province. In addition, as the Congolese army has focused on fighting the M23, other armed groups have taken advantage of government weakness and expanded their control. The result is catastrophic: Hundreds of thousands have been displaced by fighting by the in eastern DRC this year alone. A vast area has been destabilized. 

ICGLR members should be putting all the diplomatic pressure they can on Rwanda to stop. Focusing instead on a ‘neutral force’ is a massive distraction at a crucial moment. 

The truth is that these troops, if they materialize, will not be able to deal any more effectively with the armed groups that have been terrorizing our communities for many years than any of the other soldiers who have tried, including UN and Congolese troops. They will perhaps be able to force groups out of areas temporarily but will not be able to destroy them completely.  As battles rage back and forth over “territory” – the homes of ordinary people – it will be civilians who suffer most: yet more children, women, men will be forced to flee. Yet more people will die, yet more children will miss out on schooling. And if the force includes troops from Congo’s neighboring countries, they may pursue their own agenda while on Congolese soil, rather than working in our interest.

Ideally, the Congolese army should be able to put down the M23 rebellion and to provide our communities with the security we need, but it hasn’t been able to. Our government should do more to make sure its army in the east is well-trained and properly provided for and ends its abuse of civilians. We need better, more decentralized governance that actually works and we need real, local political dialogue across the country that means Congolese have a voice in what happens in their country. If the other ICGLR members truly want stability in eastern DRC they must push our government to listen more to its own people.   

The ICGLR countries should immediately begin to improve relations between DRC and Rwanda, who. have shown they are unable to do this without international mediation. The ICGLR, together with the AU Peace and Security Council, could do just this, perhaps with European or American support. But above all, the ICGLR’s members must be brave enough to speak to the real failures of Rwanda and DRC and seek practical solutions for the sake of ordinary people whose lives area again being needlessly ruined by conflict.